Last year I totally botched Alexis’ birthday. It was an epic failure, one that I didn’t plan well for, and executed even more poorly. I’ll spare you all the details, but let’s just say it started with nothing (as in no card, no flowers, nothing) and ended with Taco Bell and tears. An all-time low for me as her gift-giver. Obviously, I needed that birthday fiasco to be a tiny dot in the rearview mirror. So a few months ago, for her 35th, I wanted to do something memorable for the right reasons. Through the recommendation of a friend, I found a unique restaurant in Vancouver, BC called Dark Table. I got a babysitter, and as we set out on our drive and she had no clue where we were going or what we were doing. When we arrived, I prepped her by saying we were going out to eat, but that it was a different kind of dining experience, called “blind dining”. Blind dining, as in you literally could not see your fork an inch in front of your nose. Blind dining, as in the restaurant was absolutely, completely and utterly pitch black. Oh, and blind dining, as in our server was actually physically blind! But it was after I experienced and enjoyed this first ever blind dinner, I realized that blind dining is not really all that much different from our journey to become missionaries. And really it should not be all that different from life as a follower of Jesus. We should approach life as a Christian the same way we experienced our dinner for two at Dark Table.
Approach #1 – Trust Your Server and Chef
Before entering the restaurant, we stood near a heated lamp in a covered patio area to peruse the menu. It was limited, which proved to us that it was fancy, and after contemplating a few dishes I decided to just go all in and trust the chef. On the menu for each section were “surprise” items. So I threw caution to the wind, and ordered the surprise cocktail, surprise appetizer, surprise entree, and surprise dessert! I literally had no idea what I was going to eat, but I trusted (based on the reviews and I suppose the prices) that the chef knew what he or she was doing and deeply wanted me to enjoy my meal. So with that step taken care of before even entering the restaurant, we waited for our name to be called so we could see (or not see) what all the fuss was about inside. When the server called “McClure, Party of 2” our anticipation was at a boiling point, and we were ushered into a dark waiting area, but not quite all the way inside yet. We could tell our server was blind by her mannerisms, and that fact amazed us and was truly a phenomenal aspect of the experience. The door shut behind and our server grabbed my hands and placed them on Alexis’ shoulders, and then grabbed Alexis’ hands and placed them on her shoulders, and simply said, “Follow me.” When we pushed through the curtain into the main dining hall, the noise of table conversations flooded my ears, and the reality that I could not see any of Alexis merely a foot in front of me through me off-kilter. I knew, cognitively, that if I was following her and she was following our server, and they were not hitting anything, then I could not possibly hit anything either. And yet, out of instinct, I kept slightly hunched over, not wanting to ram into a chair or table. She navigated us swiftly, weaving between chairs, effortlessly negotiating on the fly with other servers, carrying trays of drinks and salads I imagine. Her blindness, which naturally creates a challenge in our everyday world of sight, gave her an advantage in this environment as she was able to maneuver while we were still reeling from our loss of sight. As we reached our table (I had no idea where we were in reference to the front door at this point) she placed our hands on our chairs to seat us. Once sitting, she then grabbed our wrists to feel our forks as well as our water glasses. It was an act of utter dependence, as without her simply guiding our hands we would dump water on our laps, or stab ourselves with a dinner knife. When she left to grab our cocktails she said, “If you need anything, just yell my name and I’ll come back”. She wanted both to take care of us, and was able to do so when we were truly not.
So often I want to trust in myself – my own strength, my own knowledge, my own ideas about how my life should go. I make plans, I research, and I confidently forge forward. In so doing, I really just see myself as the “captain of my soul,” as the Henley poem goes. And yet, I miss out on so much that God has to offer in this life if I don’t reach a point of dependence, trusting in Him as the ‘server’ who leads me, and the ‘chef’ who provides for me. Early in the Psalms, chapter 3: 5-8 say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones”. As we are preparing for this missionary journey to Uganda, rather than hunching over as we walk (like we did at the restaurant) we’re slowly standing straighter, and walking more briskly as we trust the ONE in whom we follow. It’s still not always natural, we are still overwhelmed at times with the lack of sight and details. But we are growing in our faith in God who knows the restaurant so to speak like the back of His hand. And in reality, He sees what we cannot see and wants to lead us to a place of nourishment.
Where do you need to trust God more? And what promises has He already made that you need to lean into?
Approach #2 – Use Your Senses
Once we sat down and no longer feared any covert moving objects hitting us, our other senses started taking over. With our two eyes rendered utterly useless, our ears stepped up and took a leadership role in figuring out what was really going on in this place. I never consider myself the best hearer. I don’t mean listener, I’m pretty good at that, but I mean literally hearing. I’m that guy who cranks the volume way too high just so I can understand what they’re saying. And yet, at this dark table, I had X-Men level hearing where I could decipher conversations and sounds across the entire restaurant! There was a slightly older couple with their child sitting to my right. A group of 3 friends behind me. An obnoxious table with a mom and probably 5 or 6 teenage girls quite possibly 40 feet away from us. I could hear steak being cut, Martini’s being sipped, and distinct laughs from all across the room. Once I stopped blinking and trying to gain any sliver of sight possible, and just let my ears take in the sounds, it was an amazing experience, and one that I rarely get. Usually, my sight overwhelms my senses and sound gets tuned out. I have to try really hard to focus my hearing. But in this context, it was the other way around. As Alexis and I began our conversation, it forced my ears and brain to really focus and I heard her in a brand new way. And my other senses got in the game too. Throughout the night, I tasted the bourbon in my surprise cocktail a little more intensely. We decided that since nobody could see us anyway, and it was difficult to cut what we couldn’t see, that we would just use our hands to eat our food. If you don’t know what all my kids know, it’s that I hate getting dirty when I eat. I pride myself in placing my napkin back on the napkin stack after the meal because I simply didn’t need it. So to just plunge my hands into a bowl of unknown food is extremely uncharacteristic of me. And yet … it felt good! It was liberating and I experienced that dish unlike I would have if I could see it, deciding typically to cut it with a knife and a fork. We smelled our food intently, deeply, with our eyes closed, which I’m aware would have looked really weird in a typical restaurant. Then we discussed it like we actually knew what we were talking about, like food-critics – “Mmm, smell that fennel … I’m noticing a hint of pomegranate in this bite … It tastes fishy, like maybe perch or snapper.”
I’m normally such a point A to point B kind of person. It’s the destination, not the journey. But before you say how that’s such a typical guy thing, just check your own walk with Jesus and see if you’re more like me than you originally thought.
- Do I want to wake up early every morning to spend time with my Lord, or do I just want to wake up one morning and be a mature, disciplined Christian?
- When conflict happens, do I see it as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness and extend grace and forgiveness as well, or do I just want the relationship not to be awkward any more?
- Am I more aware of and concerned about projects or people? Responsibilities or relationships? Money or my marriage? Career or my children?
- When something doesn’t go how I wanted (illness, financial hardship, etc) do I sit with my Savior and experience His presence, and seek His counsel? Or do I instantly research, problem-solve, complain or blame?
God intends for us to experience life to the fullest, and not just get from some supposed point A to point B. John 10:10 declares, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. I need to allow God to flood my senses with His glory and what He wants me to experience in this life. The many sights, sounds, tastes and smells, as well as emotions, of this world are intended to be experienced fully. Positively experienced, they ultimately point us back to our God as Creator. Negatively experienced or lacking, they ultimately point us back to the need for our God as Savior, and the one who is “making all things new.” Don’t miss what God has in store for you in the everyday, moment by moment. There may just be a hint of fennel or a delightful bite of snapper in there somewhere. Though we’re excited and expectant about living in Uganda, God is showing us so much through this preparation process – relationally with others and about Himself through His presence.
Approach # 3 – Take a Risk
Ultimately, it was a risk to go to Dark Table for Alexis’ birthday. Though anything would’ve been better than last year’s Taco Bell tostada (there’s a whole backstory to that – it was never really the plan), it was still risky to trust an unknown restaurant with all their mystery foods and no way to see each other on this date. Yet, thankfully she was up for an adventure and it turned out unforgettable this time around, for the right reasons. If I had stuck with the tried and true, something more local, more of a known outcome (say Scotty Browns, or sushi in Bellingham) then it would have been good no doubt, but we would’ve missed out on an adventure. Never before have I been served at a restaurant, with top-notch class, by a server who was blind. And never before at a restaurant did I take a conga line of sorts to a waiting area, where I then had to be escorted into an (almost) pitch black bathroom. That was an adventure. But I knew all night, that no matter what, our server wasn’t going to ditch us. She wasn’t going to walk us to the middle of the room and then just say ‘Peace out’. She wanted us to get safely to and from our table, and she wanted us to enjoy a delicious meal. It wasn’t some big prank or setup, a social experiment on TV with viewers watching through night vision goggles or something.
More than a few times throughout this process people have said that they think we’re “brave”. I don’t really know how to respond, we don’t really feel brave, like a soldier or first responder probably should feel. Deuteronomy 31:6 instructs us to “Be strong and courageous … for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you”. God reached into our hearts and is compelling us to go to Bundibugyo, Uganda. He will be there, and anywhere else we end up, and He promises never to leave us. The risk doesn’t feel quite so risky anymore, it actually feels riskier in some ways not to go. Because in so doing, we’ll miss out on the adventure with God that awaits.
Now it’s time for you to take a risk, knowing that God promises His presence. What are you holding back on, out of fear or anxiety of the unknown or a desire for safety and security in this life? Is it a job change your heart desires to make, but you don’t want to leave your current stable situation? Is it a broken relationship with a friend or family member that you should reach out to mend, but it’s been so long it’ll for sure be totally awkward? Or is it talking to a co-worker about what Jesus is doing in your life, even though she’ll probably think you’re super weird?
Be strong and courageous, God is always with you and He won’t leave you. It’s time to start living your life like a blind dining adventure. Enjoy your meal.